My three-year-old son Mendel often complains to me that it is taking too long for him to grow bigger and become a daddy like me. Mendel wants his hands to grow bigger so that he can be stronger, and is frustrated that he doesn’t see rapid growth in his hands when he measures them against mine. Mendel wants to be taller and that too is taking too long (in his opinion only), and one cold night he refused to go to sleep in socks, as he thought that it might limit the growth of his feet when he is sleeping.
In the beautiful world of his three-year-old mind, he is not content with his current size and has an enormous desire to grow bigger, stronger and smarter all the time. As parents we try to ensure that we do a good job in making sure that it happens, by nurturing and feeding him right, and providing him with a healthy lifestyle and environment that is conducive to his development and growth. Mendel is so proud of himself when he outgrows a pair of pants, or his shoes are becoming too small for his feet, it means he is growing bigger and he gets excited.
Mendel’s desire to grow bigger and better is always there, and he never says to me Daddy I am done, I am tall enough and I am strong enough. Mendel knows that he has many more inches to grow, and his arms can still become a lot stronger, and thus Mendel’s drive to grow big never ceases to cool down. In fact, on a night when Mendel isn’t so excited about eating the healthy dinner, we remind Mendel of his desire to grow, and usually that does it and he eats.
In the pure mind of a child, life is about growing and getting bigger all the time.
Sometimes our children are our best teachers.
As adults, we sometimes get so consumed with life’s obligations and responsibilities that we forget about growing and developing who we are, instead we think that we have reached our peak, or we settle into the comfort zone of where we are at right now. Yet perhaps Mendel’s desire to grow is a reminder that as adults, we too need to have the desire for growth and constant development of who we are. It may not be by adding inches to our height or to our waistline, but certainly in our spiritual and moral pursuits and in our choices of action and Jewish development, we should never really become complacent, and instead we too should try to nurture the desire and need to grow.
In fact, human growth and working on our character is at the very essence of who we are. Judaism believes that at our very core, we are all like the young pure child. Our very essence is a raw beautiful diamond, and part of our job in life is to tap into our essence, tap into our core and work on bringing that deeper consciousness into our day-to-day life so that our life is richer, more meaningful, and more engaged with G-d and those around us. A true Mentch is not just someone who does the right thing, a Mentch is someone who is constantly working on improving themselves and their actions.
Tonight and tomorrow, we are celebrating Jewish Arbor Day, Tu B’Shevat, the New Year for the Trees. One of the reasons that we celebrate this holiday, is since G-d made man so similar to trees in so many ways. We have roots, we start out as tender saplings, we have branches, we have fruit that can turn into new trees, and we sometimes face hurricanes, storms and North Easters which endanger us, crack our branches, and sometimes even knock us down.
Nurturing the saplings when they are young is essential and perhaps has a stronger impact than what may happen down the line. However, one of the most important elements of man’s comparison to a tree is the tree’s constant growth, it constantly grows taller and constantly produces fruit that will bring pleasure to others and help produce new trees.
As humans and especially as Jews, we too, need to learn from the trees. We must make sure we are well connected with our roots, we must nurture ourselves both physically and spiritually, we must make sure we can have the strength to weather the elements that we will be exposed to in life, and most importantly we must make sure we are never satisfied at where we are our at, and instead we need to make sure that we are always seeking to grow and become a better person.
As we celebrate Tu B’shevat, let us take a few minutes to think on this message for ourselves and our family, and think of areas in our lives where we can use some growth, think of an area of Judaism where we can connect or do on a deeper level, think of our personal lives and think how we can improve and develop those special moments and relationships, and think of our commitment to G-d and how we can add some growth in that area of our life too.
Mendel, thank you for teaching me of the need to always desire and actually grow!
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